Anyone missing their regular dose of bloodshed, carnage, bitter infighting, and shifting allegiances now that Game of Thrones is over need look no further than the British political scene. And unlike GoT, you don’t have to wait a week between episodes; there seems to be a new instalment each day.
In a referendum held on June 23, the British people voted—by 52 per cent to 48 per cent—to leave the European Union. The referendum was not held because voters wanted it; it was held because Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, thinking people would vote to remain, looked to silence the large Eurosceptic faction in his party. The results have provoked bitterness, recriminations, confusion, and fear; driven the pound to its lowest level since 1985; wiped billions off the economy; caused a five-fold increase in the number of calls to a British telephone hotline where people can report instances of racial abuse; led to renewed calls for Scotland to secede; caused Cameron to announce his resignation; and thrown both the Tories and the other major UK political party, Labour, into leadership turmoil.
If you’re wondering what the European Union is, you’re not alone: “What is the EU?” was the most Googled question in Britain the day after the referendum, suggesting that a lot of voters were hazy about what they voted on. A reporter for The Guardian newspaper, interviewing people the day after the vote, summed it up thusly: “Here was a theme that cropped up often: the sense that the question should never have been asked, that this was a question involving complexities, not principle, and that the elected leaders should have sorted it out themselves.”
For the time being, Britain remains one of the 28 countries making up the EU, a group of nations with treaties allowing (among other things) the free movement of goods and peoples across its borders. This means that anyone from Britain wanting to live or work in a fellow EU country could do so; but it also meant that Britain was open to anyone from the EU who wanted to move there, which many did. During the campaign, the Leave side stoked fears of these immigrants coming to Britain in ever-increasing numbers, swamping the health and education systems and changing the face of the country.
This fearmongering struck a chord, particularly among older voters, who voted overwhelmingly to leave. Younger voters, on the other hand, voted by a large majority in favour of remaining in the EU, and many have expressed considerable bitterness that their ability to live and work freely in 27 other countries has now seemingly been taken away from them.
There is also bitterness about the fact that none of the politicians who orchestrated the Brexit seem to have had any plan for what comes next. Conservative MP and former London mayor Boris Johnson was one of the most prominent faces on the Leave side, and he looked shell-shocked when the result was announced. Rather than put himself forward as a candidate to succeed Cameron as PM—and Johnson has never made any secret of the fact that becoming Prime Minister is his main goal in life—he has walked away, leaving many to accuse him of refusing to clear up a mess that he himself created.
The fallout looks set to continue indefinitely, with no idea what the end result will be. To (slightly) misquote Bette Davis in the film All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”